I've been thinking about this interesting contrast of concepts lately. Guilt and Grace. Within the world of religion, these are often the forefront ideas that will surface when talking about religious beliefs.
Guilt certainly has deep roots in Christianity. For hundreds of years, religious leaders have preyed on the fears of mankind, instilling deep feelings of guilt regarding our very existence. Men are made to feel guilt over their natural tendencies, unavoidable emotions, and personal circumstances. Perhaps guilt was meant to bring us to our knees amidst our growing hubris.
But personally, I don't think guilt has any place in one's spirituality. Guilt and fear are not emotions of God. They are dark, destructive ideas that can never lead to healing or light. All that is good comes from God - guilt is definitely not a productive feeling. I don't believe that guilt leads to a true change of heart. It may temporarily alter one's habits or behaviour, but it doesn't get you to the roots of what God's intentions are for you.
I also believe that guilt isn't an emotion another can make you feel. Guilt by definition is a personal emotion - you feel badly about your own actions. Another could try to point out why you should feel guilt, but only you can actually experience it.
Grace is the gift of God by which he extends mercy, loving-kindness, and salvation to people. I love this definition of grace. I may be undeserving of the gift, but I need not feel guilty about receiving it. As a parent, if I give a gift to my children, there is no expectation in return. I give it freely, simply because I love them. Grace means that I don't need to feel badly about my shortcomings. Grace means that I can daily work to better myself. Grace means that after everything has come to an end, and I still fall short (as all will), it's okay.
I think all too often those of us belonging to religious organizations get caught up in the appearance of things. How many service projects did we total this year? Did I attend all my meetings? Can I check off daily prayer and scripture study? Can I answer all the questions posed to me in Sunday School? Church is not a check list of activities - it's a place to find strength and come to know God. Not to know about him, but to truly know him. Although it's wonderful to be a part of a church family that supports you, ultimately your journey to God and his grace is one you take on your own. Until that is written on your heart, you're bound to get caught in the web of guilt and appearances.
I have friends with religious views that fall all over the map. Some attend religious organizations, others practice their faiths on their own. Some adhere to the tenets of Christianity, others to the doctrine of science. Belief is a personal journey that too often is swept aside in today's materialistic world. I cannot and dare not contend for other's beliefs - I have only the authority to discuss my own. I have found joy - true joy, not momentary happiness - in my own journey - a journey only just begun. I have discarded the chains of guilt and embraced the gift of grace.
PS - I have been enjoying a beautiful rendition of the song "Amazing Grace" by Chris Tomlin lately that speaks of the beauty and peace of grace perfectly. Have a listen at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AXV6HJxUebg